Monday, May 16, 2011

I Like Cheese

Extra sharp cheddar. Creamy goat cheese. Aged swiss. Stinky blue. Like wine, cheese encompasses as world of flavor. And I love them all. Even the oddities.

One of my favorite treats is heading to the farmers market on a Saturday morning and grabbing some cheese from Cato Corner Farm. With Tina gone for work on a recent weekend, I decided to indulge myself in something she wont partake in; the stinky cheese.

Cato specializes in artisinal runs of very strong cheeses. Their Womanchego is a powerfully nutty cheese that I often select, similar to a Manchego. Their Black Ledge Blue is a rich, crumbly cheese, marbled with veins of their special blue mold, that goes well with a range of meals. For this time around though, I decided to venture out a bit, and try the Raperlee. It’s a cow’s milk cheese where the rind is washed with apple brandy during the aging process, suffusing the cheese with it’s flavor, boosting the growth of some interesting bacteria (imparting that unique aroma), and aging the cheese to a smooth and creamy consistency.

The trick with such a powerful cheese is what to pair it with. With such a strong flavored cheese, most food and drink would disappear when sharing the same table. Some times it’s best just to fall back on the old standards. Since the flavor would overwhelm almost anything else, crackers proved to be an effective delivery system, and allowed me to really enjoy the merits of the cheese all on its own. The other half of my afternoon snack was the beer selection, where I chose Old Rasputin Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing Co. The heavy, chocolaty flavor held up against the hearty fruit notes of the cheese, turning a savory snack into something almost like a dessert. The cheese itself was the real treat though, as the rind had picked up the flavors of the wash. The apple flavor imparted by the brandy was a natural complement to the grass-fed cheese flavor, reminding me of one of my favorite snacks from childhood; apple slices with cheddar cheese. With the alcohol flavors of the Raperlee tasted like a grown-up version of the port wine cheese from the grocery store, but was obviously the result of careful crafting as opposed to careful chemical manipulation.

Sometimes it’s best not to over think things, and simply sit down to enjoy some straight forward, if powerful flavors. Though sometimes, its not something others really want to share with you.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Local

We called this blog “Speaking the Local Vin-acular” for a simple reason. Whenever we can, we like to support local businesses. Even if it means paying a little more for something, we can only see the benefits of patronizing the local, small businesses in our immediate area.

Sometimes, its a struggle to remember why it’s important to support our local place. Because it is on the same block, we share a rear courtyard with our local bar. On nice summer nights, when we are home watching TV, patrons linger outside on the bar's rear patio, smoking and having a good time. When midnight rolls around and we are trying to fall asleep, the party goers are out, causing quite a stir. The sounds and smells seek out our open windows, almost as if we are on the patio with them.

Not everyone is convinced that it’s a good thing. I had to work to convince Tina that the having a bar nearby was a pleasant convenience, when I moved in. There was talk around the block of pushing them out, by finding violations in City codes or complaining enough to law enforcement.  And yet.  As much as I've cursed the noise coming through our windows, as much as my wife (an "early to bed" sort of person) threatens never to go back to the bar, we keep on going.

If I want to go out for a beer after dinner on a cold winter night, or in summer when I don't feel like venturing too far, I like being able to walk around the corner. Sometimes it's the convenience that matters. It’s not too expensive, and it's got some interesting character, so it's worth putting up with the noise I don't like to help a small business succeed. But we’re not going to join them on the patio.

Well Paired at the Wedding

We were honored to attend a reception dinner to celebrate the wedding of our two good friends, and delighted to receive this menu at our place setting. The bride carefully crafted this menu, artfully selecting a different wine to pair with each of the five courses. The result was pure, mouth-watering decadence.
A few highlights from what I learned as I enjoyed this menu:

1. The fattiness and saltiness of the first course--terrine foie gras--went exceedingly well with the semi-dry 2009 Riesling by Dr. "L" Loosen. The Riesling grape is one of my favorites and often gets a bad rap for being a "sweet" wine. Not always. In this case, there was some sweetness, but not overly so. I clearly remember notes of honey being integral to its flavor profile, serving as a balance point between the near cloying sweetness of the poached pear, and the minerality of the foie gras.

2. The Raymond Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Sommelier Selection, 2007, was the perfect pairing to the herb crusted rack of lamb. When serving red meat, red wine is usually the way to go. However, the full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon wines can often overpower the flavor of the meat. This Cabernet Sauvignon was more medium-bodied, very smooth, and quite drinkable. And the lamb didn't suffer for it.

3. The salad course came last, after 3 other courses and right before dessert. This, of course, is the complete opposite of what you might expect. However, this plain salad had the effect of cleansing the mouth of all the tastes and textures of the 3 courses that had preceded it. And, as the 2009 Firestone Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Barbara) was probably the lightest-bodied wine of the evening, it was the perfect pairing in preparing the taste buds for dessert.

4. With a dessert table, the final wine pairing might have proven to be a bit of a challenge. Our hostess ended the meal  with a Taittinger La Francaise Brut. "Brut" is another word for dry, and the crisp dryness of the champagne cut through the sweetness of each sugary morsel, and let us try each different bite with a fresh palate.